SPORTS DOCTOR- Go for last: UVA's sure bet is embarrassment
Looking outside, it's difficult to believe it's almost spring. This past weekend I traded my seed catalogs for a snow shovel and got on my knees to thank the Lord for my generator. It's March in Virginia, and that means one thing: humiliation.
For good or for ill, UVA belongs to the ACC, that most volatile of conferences. In "small" sports, UVA runs roughshod over all comers. Of the ACC's 10 national championship wins in men's lacrosse, UVA boasts four. When it comes to men's soccer, UVA does even better, having won five NCAA titles. In most sports that don't require goalposts, UVA is a perennial powerhouse and can be counted on for a rip-roaring good time. But throw in a hoop and your guess is as good as mine.
Was it only two years ago that Virginia basketball shared the regular season title with UNC? Indeed it was. In March of 2007, coming off a 7-9 season in 2006, the Cavs tied the Tar Heels for first place with 11-5 conference records. Let me repeat that: in 2007, UVA and UNC were tied for first place in ACC basketball. UVA. UNC. UNC.
If the import of that tie is lost on you, you must be newly arrived to this country. Without going into the storied and intimidating history of the UNC basketball program, suffice it to say that tying them warranted nothing less than a tickertape parade and a day off from school. For any other ACC team, tying UNC's regular season record would have assured entrance into the big leagues, but for UVA, it was just a detour on the road to relief.
It took only one season for UVA's foray into basketball's bourgeoisie to prove an anomaly of humiliating proportions. March 2008 found the Cavs with a 5-11 conference record, the third worst in the ACC. What success UVA achieved on the court was due almost exclusively to point guard Sean Singletary, who, having lost his wonder twin J.R. Reynolds, carried the entire team on his back. 2007-2008 was a banner year for Singletary: he became the only ACC player ever to record 2,000 career points, 500 career assists, 400 career rebounds and 200 career steals. Unfortunately for UVA, Singletary also graduated.
And so now it's March 2009, and it's no surprise that North Carolina and Duke lead the ACC and are comfortably ensconced in the NCAA top 10. With the loss of Sean Singletary, it's equally unsurprising that UVA hasn't improved on last year's conference record. UVA may seem reliably stinky, but hold your horses.
With two regular season games left to play, UVA's record for the 2008-2009 stands at 3-11 and there's little chance the Cavs are going to emerge victorious in either one. Back in December, UVA beat Georgia Tech by a mere four points (88-84) and with a 1-13 record, the Yellow Jackets are the lowest-ranked team in the ACC. Considering Virginia has the second worst record in the conference, they offer easy end-of-season victories to both Clemson and Maryland.
The irony is that even if by some miracle UVA ended the season with two wins, a 5-11 ACC record would tie Virginia's third best conference showing in the past six years. While the rest of the ACC jockeys for third place behind UNC and Duke, UVA remains a constant threat for last place and therein lies their contribution to the ACC's unpredictability.
Sure, UVA stinks, but how badly? The Cavs have proven time and again they're not the absolute worst. Back in 2004, with a 2-4 conference record, UVA won one more game than Clemson. Even in 2005, Virginia couldn't stand alone. With matching conference records of four wins and 12 losses, UVA and Florida State shared the lowest rung of the ladder. What does UVA have to do? Isn't it time they made a clean break and gave the ACC a little stability?
The 2008-2009 season may just clinch it. If UVA ends this season with a 3-13 record, Cavalier fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief. With football already down the toilet, a solid last-place record in basketball would flush away the last of Virginia's worries. It's a neat trick, really, one for which Craig Littlepage and his athletic staff should be lauded. A team with the lowest of expectations can't be humiliated and if there's one predictable thing about the ACC, it's that Virginia will be humiliated. So for crying out loud, Coach Leitao, end it now. It's almost spring– let UVA enjoy it.